How to grow stronger in making good choices

Narrow gate

Matt. 7:13-14

Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

LIFE is about choices, and for us seeking to be disciples of Jesus it’s definitely about making good choices – what He would have us choose. We have free will and many choices are trivial and up to us; I wouldn’t pray about what socks to wear or whether to vacuum the floor if it needs it. But I am trying to live a lifestyle where I don’t set out on anything of any significance, without asking the Lord to bless it and guide me in it.

So do we intentionally discern the Way of Jesus among the options,or do we just take the path or least resistance?

When Jesus said, “the way is difficult that leads to life”, it doesn’t sound much like a path of least resistance. Sometimes He calls us to make a courageous choice – and that’s usually not the easy or popular option.

That, you might think, is the way to create disunity. But the way of the majority is not necessarily the right way. Of the 12 scouts who went to reconnoitre the possibility of entering the Promised Land, 10 agreed that the mission looked too hazardous. Two dared to go against this view and, with faith, presented a more positive perspective.

If we all chose Jesus’ way, by definition we would be in unity – a true and Spirit-led unity. The Bible speaks of blessings that come as a result of unity (e.g. Psalm 133:1-3 where berakah, v.3, translated blessing, has the deeper sense of God’s favour coming on the righteous).

If we're honest, we’re not good at seeking God’s way or choice before we act. If we do ask, we are not always good at listening. So it can seem easier to opt out and let others decide – don’t churches elect leaders for that? But that is a false unity, if it is anything – another version of the path of least resistance. Unity doesn’t just happen, and it isn’t a default. Quite the opposite – it’s something we all have to work at (Ephesians 5:3).

There is much in the Bible about the holiness that surrounds unity, and the unholiness and that goes with disunity. The world recognises that unity is desirable and preferable, from the Palace of Westminster down to a family decision about where to go on holiday.

Unity doesn't just occur. It is a choice. If you have 10 people, you have, humanly speaking, 10 opinions e.g whether the referee should have allowed that goal, whether Brexit or Remain was the right choice for the UK, who should win BBC1 Strictly Come Dancing and whether the Kingdom of God is more about worship or mission. Often there isn’t an absolute ‘right choice’ as such, but as disciples we'll always be looking for Scriptural principles that point the way, and watching for how the Holy Spirit will always try to bring a unity to that group or situation.

We were created as individuals with minds and opinions and we all bring different experiences and desires to the debate. That is right and good, unless it takes over with ego demanding its own way or pride asserting that it is right. My experience is that teams with no particular spiritual dimension generally recognise these immaturities for what they are and learn to listen and defer. As disciples we want to be Spirit-led and not flesh-limited and we'll quickly recognise the dangers of expressing strong opinions.

I don’t believe in a divide between sacred and secular – God works through everyone and everything if we allow Him to. But we still have choices: whether to be swayed by opinions of others, and how much to be influenced by what other people think and led by our loyalties. That’s what the Bible calls friendship with the world. Our trust as disciples is not in that place, but with the Master.

God is always speaking to us by His Spirit and through His Word, which is flagged up for us in various ways. It might be a prophetic word, given in a church setting for weighing by others. Or it may be what I call 'prophetic in the ordinary' where two or three people are hearing the same thing and there's a sense that God is speaking collectively. Which is the more genuine?

Do we go with opinions or do we go with Scriptures that seem to resonate but which we don't entirely understand? What we understand is more comfortable but lacks provenance. Those 'nudges of the Spirit' never make sense to our logic, but God is always ahead of us and that's the reason. Sometimes it takes courage to go with our conscience, to go against the crowd; as disciples this is our tension.

We have free will, and on many issues we may be entirely free to exercise that will. The Holy Spirit’s leading, informed by Scripture (He won’t ever go against His word) may not be too concerned to sway our choice of who wins a match or competition.

On kingdom issues, however, it is quite different. Heaven has clarity, and we are meant to have clarity, too. Frequently we settle for confusion. In heaven there is no question that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) – it's the only way. For us, it is a question of choice. It is a matter of our intention. His Way might not be the way we would choose for our own comfort or fulfilment. What if it is unattractively narrow or seems too difficult? What if that more difficult way puts us in a minority, facing the peer pressure to go with our friends? For us as disciples of Jesus, this is our territory.

The reason we so often face this dilemma is because God wants to grow us. He wants to grow us stronger in choosing for Him, more able to take a different path from the crowd – better at hearing Him and better at following Him.

We can’t lead anyone else until we can lead ourselves, and that comes from us first learning to follow -- the first distinctive of the true disciple.

DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION
  1. Bible study. Ephesians 5:2-3Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep [NASB "being diligent to preserve"] the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.Why is Paul making this exhortation? 
How do we “make every effort”?

  2. Why do we so often choose the ‘default’ path of least resistance, rather than the more narrow or difficult way? What simple discipline would improve our choices?

  3. When the path seems to be disappearing, how do you know you are on the path of truth and life – the right path – and have not taken a wrong turning?